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The Octagon, The Midland: The Review

Jonathan Schofield finds the Octagon doesn't square up

Published on October 20th 2011.

The Octagon, The Midland: The Review

THE Octagon in the Midland and the adjacent terrace over the reception area must provide the best people watching in any Manchester venue.

Not good. It's a shame. Lightening things up and providing more delicacy would change everything, and allow the food to match the surroundings.

Time it right and it's a ball. Literally, in some cases. Best viewing times at the human zoo are around 7pm to 10pm.

There are gala dinners taking place, people meeting up before going out on the town or returning to the hotel, residents relaxing, wedding parties gearing up or winding down, bands and actors coming through, airline staff: the world is there.

The fun is enhanced by the fact that this isn't a one-dimensional, one-generational crowd. Everybody's here from kids to nonagenarians. 

Last Saturday I finished a Confidential tunnel tour and met the family on a whim at the Midland. I managed to slip past the liveried concierge in boots still muddy from the underworld of the Great Northern Railway Company's Goods Warehouse down the road (click here) and found an unoccupied table. 

Then I watched and waited for the family. A big glass of ripe, bursting Rioja ratcheted the mood higher. 

The key to the Midland is its scale.

The 1903 building was built for the Midland Railway Company by a man called Charles Trubshaw. It was built for show, as the burnished terracotta and brick and the granite details reveal even before you enter the building. 

Inside there's a generous approach to space, especially in the main reception area's triple-height glass ceilings, allowing views up through the building. The idea of imposing an Octagon shaped room in all of this is crazy but it works, providing an intimately grand focus to the reception areas.


There's an Edwardian British Empire grandeur at play here. A notion of getting it right in terms of customer experience, of allowing guests room to breathe and loll and relax. It's unergonomic probably, no doubt time and motion technocrats might consider it a waste of space, but it doesn't half make you feel comfortable, even generous. Like a big fat cat, stretching. 

Protestors And Midland 022Reflections in the glass ceiling of the scene below

We dined from the Octagon menus.

Of course there was a tantalising view into The French restaurant nearby, a gorgeous Fabergé egg of a place, that comes complete with all the flash and fandango of silver service combined with a classical French approach to food. But my muddy boots would hardly have fitted there. 

So we sat in The Octagon and chose smoked salmon parcels with prawns, fresh salmon, avocado and rose dressing for £14, sirloin with Bearnaise sauce, hand-cut chips and a mushroom for £21.95 and a Midland beefburger topped with gorgonzola cheese and maple-glazed bacon with hand-cut chips for £12.95. A dessert of carrot cake and double cream rounded the meal off at £4.95. 

The carrot cake was good; moist and lush with double cream delight, the beefburger was ok (although the way my son surrounded it with his Space Marines probably wouldn't have pleased the food purists). The bacon was the star on the burger.

Unfortunately, the steak and the salmon failed.

Protestors And Midland 030Burger under bombardment

Of course you want a heartiness in a steak, but you also want some finesse. The medium rare request for the sirloin was delivered the wrong side of medium and the meat had nothing of the buttery softness of the better quality cuts, but instead almost split like stewing steak. It maybe should have been hung longer. The chips were crispy, brittle on the outside and dusty on the inside. Mistimed. I was suspicious of them.

Protestors And Midland 024

The lack of refinement in this classiest of rooms was brutally displayed in the smoked salmon parcels. We didn't know whether to eat them or besiege them. They were two massive towers as bleakly imagined as the proposed Ask Development towers in Greengate, Salford - see pictures below. One of these towers would have been too much, let alone two. Somebody in the Midland kitchen needs to look the word parcel up in the dictionary.

The filling was mush, the flavours were hard to distinguish and were in any case submerged under the thick smoked salmon wrap. The greens did alright in providing a textural contrast, but otherwise this was a clumsy dish. 

Not good. It's a shame. Lightening things up and giving more delicacy would change everything.

Not that this will stop me enjoying the splendid space of The Midland Octagon and reception area every month or so. I adore it too much. Nor will it stop me taking at least an annual visit to the exquisite French Restaurant in the Midland. 

Tweaking the Octagon menu shouldn't be too hard. This can't be treated like a bar menu in any common or garden hotel.

This is the Midland, and the food needs to match the surroundings. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.

The Octagon Restaurant and Bar 
The Midland Hotel, 
16 Peter Street
Manchester M60 2DS

Rating: 14/20
Food: 6/10
Service: 3/5
Ambience: 5/5

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away.

Latin America, Octagon And Booths 104Lovely space, lovely big wide spaces

Protestors And Midland 028Architectural salmon parcels

GreengateAsk's Greengate Development in Salford clearly inspired by the Octagon salmon parcels

Protestors And Midland 033Boots with mud on, trying and failing to hide

Midland Roof Garden 002The Midland Roof Garden in the early 1900s and the way people should dress on any visit

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

pollolocoOctober 20th 2011.

There's now "hand cut" about those chips...you can tell a mile off they are the prepackaged ready blanched catering type.........disgraceful!!!

AnonymousOctober 20th 2011.

That Steak looks like one I had at Wetherspoons....

Gillynumber1October 21st 2011.

Jonathan, do you ever send food back if it's crap?

paulOctober 21st 2011.

Burgers in the Midland !!!!!!!!!!! Think ill stick to the French It did get me thinking mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm time to call Bruno

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 21st 2011.

Who retired some time ago.........

SquirrelitoOctober 22nd 2011.

That salmon looks hideous and flabby and the chips clearly came out of a big plastic freezer bag. Looks more 1980s Post House than what you'd desire of the Midland. Appalled. The Chef should hang his head in shame.

Jonathan SchofieldOctober 22nd 2011.

Gillynumber1 Only if definitively inedible. Otherwise I eat what I get. Sending things back till a place gets things right rather defeats the purpose of the review.

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